Analysis: Bus dispute just shy of an all-out strike
The decision by the trade unions representing Dublin Bus staff to stage 13 more days of work stoppages in the weeks ahead is not quite the “nuclear option” of an
all-out indefinite strike – however, it is not far off.
If the stoppages go ahead as planned, about 400,000 passengers face disruption on two or three days every week until the end of October.
Ironically, the escalation in the dispute comes as all sides say they are available for talks. However, nobody is currently talking.
None of the parties, publicly at least, have signalled they are prepared to move from their existing positions and in such a scenario it is unlikely the State dispute resolution agencies will determine that any intervention is worthwhile.
It may well be that after the conclusion of the strikes this week there will be further back-channel assessments to test the waters and that this could lead to some form of intervention in advance of the next wave of stoppages a week from today. However, no talks are imminent.
IncreasesThe five trade unions representing the 3,400 Dublin Bus staff are seeking increases of 15 per cent over three years, as well as a payment in recognition of a 6 per cent rise dating back to a previous national wage deal in 2008.
Bus drivers also want pay parity with tram drivers on the Luas system who secured an 18 per cent pay hike over four years last June.
Dublin Bus says it can only afford increases of 8.2 per cent recommended by the Labour Court, but that further rises on top of this could be obtained as part of local deals which delivered extra productivity.
However, the union’s argue they cannot go into talks on the basis of a Labour Court recommendation rejected by 90 per cent of members.
Unions see the company’s position – as set out in a letter from chief executive Ray Coyne to staff on Wednesday – as seeking to place pre-conditions on talks.
The unions want a higher flat-rate increase than the 8.2 per cent over three years recommended by the Labour Court before they will discuss further rises linked to productivity.
Dublin Bus has contended that the 8.2 per cent Labour Court-recommended increase would cost it €30 million, and that is at the limit of what it could afford. The company argues the unions’ demands could cost it €50 million.
However, at the same time, the current strikes are also costing the company €600,000 per day.
The unions argue the State also has a role to play and that the level of subvention provided by the exchequer for the operation of Dublin Bus – which has fallen by 24 per cent from €85 million to €57 million over recent years – needs to be increased.
FundsHowever, the Minister for Transport Shane Ross has said he will not open the State’s chequebook to provide additional funds to buy industrial peace.
The Minister has been criticised by the unions and by the opposition for “inaction” in resolving the dispute.
The position of the Minister seems to be that it is up to the company and the unions themselves to negotiate a resolution.
However, Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil are determined to try to draw Mr Ross into the dispute.
The Minister will also be acutely aware in any dealings with the Dublin Bus issue that staff in the two other State transport companies, Iarnród Éireann and Bus Éireann have their own pay ambitions and will be watching developments very closely.